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The fall of Kabul, the sunset of interventionism for the West?




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Is there a sustainable future for human rights in Afghanistan, asks Willy Fautré, director of Human Rights Without Frontiers? Almost 20 years after US forces ousted the Taliban from power with some support by the UK, their ‘Blitzkrieg’ was more a quiet victorious march towards Kabul than a war against an evaporated national army. A number of political analysts say this geopolitical earthquake sounds the end of the claimed moral duty of the West to promote and export democracy and human rights.

The military and political debacle of the West in Afghanistan had been announced by the US military as a credible possibility but their warning was ignored by Washington.

Yet, the US administration does not bear the full responsibility of this strategic blunder. All the NATO countries subsequently involved in the war and the occupation failed to anticipate a possible accelerated collapse of the Afghan administration and its army, and to plan in due time the needed exfiltration operation of the Afghans who assisted them.


Beyond the chaos and the individual tragedies that we all witnessed on television, this geo-political earthquake questions the Western theories of regime change and nation-building as well as the exportation and construction of democracy with the support of the military. The ‘right to interfere’ on alleged humanitarian grounds under the umbrella of foreign occupation forces and a proxy political leadership is also at stake.

Kabul is now the most recent place where such theories will be buried for a long time, if not forever, according to many political analysts.

But is there still a future for the promotion of human rights by Western governments and NGOs in war-torn countries such as Afghanistan where they are militarily engaged? And with which actors? Should human rights NGOs refuse to work under the umbrella and protection of NATO or Western occupation forces? Will they not be perceived as Western GONGOs and accomplices of foreign armies as Christian missionaries were in colonial times? These and other questions will need to be addressed by the international community.


Western supremacists and colonialism

Throughout the centuries, various Western European countries have felt superior to other peoples. As colonial powers, they have invaded their territories on all continents to allegedly bring them civilization and the values of the Enlightenment, an alleged good cause.

In reality, their purpose was mainly to exploit their natural resources and their workforce. They got the blessing of the dominant Catholic Church which saw a historic and messianic opportunity to spread its faith and values, and to project its power around the world.

After WWII and along the decolonization process, the progressive emergence and development of democracy in Western countries reinvigorated their ambition to conquer the world again, but differently, and to reshape other peoples in their image.

The values of political democracy were their spearhead, and their religion was human rights.

This political-cultural colonialism underpinned by their belief in their own supremacy looked generous in the sense that they naively wanted to share their values with the whole world, with all the peoples and against their tyrants. But that missionary-like project and process often ignored their history, their culture and their religions as well as their reluctance to share a number of specifically Western liberal values.

In Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan and other countries, the US, the UK, France and others have waged wars on security grounds and then used the magic word ‘nation-building’, equivalent to regime change by force if needed, to justify their actions. However, these Muslim majority countries have become the cemeteries of the so-called moral right to interfere on humanitarian grounds so much cherished by the West. This doctrine is now dead and being buried, many policy-makers say.

It does not mean that the values of democracy, rule of law and human rights professed by the West do not correspond to the aspiration of other peoples. However, the fight for these values must first of all be their own fight. They cannot be artificially transplanted in a social body that is not ready to receive it.

In the case of Afghanistan, 20 years were used for capacity-building programs to empower and equip women’s groups, journalists, human rights activists and other segments of civil society. To what extent will they be able to resist the Taliban’s regime and grow is unpredictable once most foreign media and observers will have left the country willy-nilly? Nothing could be less sure.

Is there a future for human rights in Afghanistan?

A number of NGOs have already left Afghanistan along with the NATO forces, which reinforces the Taliban perception of their lack of neutrality and impartiality in their year-long engagement in Afghan society.

If all humanitarian and human rights organizations leave the country, the driving forces of the Afghan civil society will feel abandoned and betrayed. They will be vulnerable to Taliban repression and will feel resentment towards their former Western supporters.

The social services and infrastructures put in place in the last 20 years need to be preserved as a humanitarian crisis is looming in the short term according to the UN Development Agency. For the sake of the Afghan population, foreign humanitarian assistance needs to be maintained and developed but in a safe environment and apart from political negotiations between the former occupation powers and the Taliban authorities.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has decided to stay. In a long interview with France24, its president, Peter Maurer, has recently declared that their objective will be to stay with the Afghans, to go on sharing their lives and to find solutions to their problems in the respect of the Red Cross principles and values.

The place of Afghan women in their staff and projects will be their first human rights challenge and their first test for inevitable deals to be negotiated with the Taliban authorities.


From guns to governance, the Taliban transition is difficult to digest



With the announcement of a new government formation, the Taliban has officially requested the world to legitimize its forceful rule in Afghanistan. Various important ministry portfolios were distributed to a council of members who have been designated as terrorists by E.U, UK, U.S, U.N and NATO allies. While Russia, China, Iran and Pakistan have kept their embassies open in Kabul, the terror group has already received some international recognition. Apart from solving few factional divides, Taliban tried to emulate principals of governance in order to project itself as a sustainable entity. However, majority of the elected Taliban figures have either been designated as terrorists by UN or occupied space on FBI’s “most wanted list.” The Islamic emirate of Afghanistan is being ruled by a government that doesn’t comprehend international laws and treaties. This interim government mostly consists of old guards of the Taliban regime who waged a war against foreign forces to reclaim Afghanistan. With zero representation of women in the interim government, the Taliban have made it clear that inclusivity and diversity are not its core ideals. It prefers to continue with terror inflicting patterns and still denounces modernity in political affairs.

The nature and character of this unique government is rather intricate and obscure. The social, political and economic framework for a sustainable government were decided by 800 Islamic scholars. With Taliban’s growing intolerance towards dissent, many members with zero experience were handpicked to occupy the most important offices. The appointment of Mohammad Hasan Akhund as prime minister may not have surprised many political pundits, but none could decipher Mullah Baradar's demotion to deputy prime minister. Lest we forget, this government is the same repressive theocratic regime that gave refuge to Osama bin laden, the mastermind of 9/11 attacks killing around three thousand Americans.

Ministry of interior affairs will be led by one of FBI’s most wanted man, with a $10m bounty


Sirajuddin Haqqani being appointed as the interior minister poses a major challenge not just for the U.S but also Afghanistan’s neighbors. Afghanistan’s new interior minister, responsible for overseeing the country's police, intelligence services and security forces is himself a terror suspect and wanted by FBI for questioning. Also, Haqqani network’s strong alliance with Al Qaeda should send alarm bells ringing. Sirajuddin commands the most notorious faction of the Taliban that takes pride in suicide bombing and incorporating staunch principals of jihad. Bankrolled by Pakistan's intelligence services, the Haqqani network has operated with absolute impunity to spread its terror activities like kidnapping for ransom and unleashing suicide bombers in various parts of Kabul. With the Taliban mistakenly releasing prisoners who are hardcore Islamic state commanders, trainers and bomb makers, the interior minister will be in a tough spot. Mismanagement of other rival extremist groups can create an unavoidable catastrophic influx of violence in the region.

Ministers for defense and education are not unusual choices

Even though the current defense minister Muhammad Yaqoob Mujahid (son of Taliban founder, Mullah Omar) favored a negotiated end to the war, he refused to break ties with terrorist network Al Qaeda. Unlike the post of insurgency's military chief, Mullah Yaqoob did not inherit the autonomy to make decisions. He has been appointed to obey orders and serve the interests of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence agency that provides safe haven to terrorists. A defense minister trained in guerilla warfare by the terrorist group, Jaish-e-Mohammad is now responsible for Afghanistan’s military measure, resources and crafting policy decisions on matters related to security. On the other hand, ministry of education is now in the hands of Abdul Baqi Haqqani who has been tasked to set up an education system that delivers equitable and excellent outcomes. While the Taliban has vowed to preserve the gains, Afghanistan has made in the education sector over the past 2 decades, coeducation will still remain prohibited. Abdul Baqi Haqqani has already replaced formal education with Islamic studies. In fact, he thinks higher education and obtaining PHD are irrelevant pursuits. This sets a dangerous precedent and lack of formal education will give rise to unemployment which will further destabilize the war-torn nation.


Other ministries were also assigned to hardline Islamists

Khairullah Khairkhwa, the acting minister of information and broadcasting not only has close association with Al Qaeda but also believes in a hardline Islamist movement. In 2014, Khairkhwa was released from Guantanamo Bay prison in exchange for Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl, a glorious war hero held captive by Taliban for five years. Free from captivity, Khairkhwa reunited with the terrorist group to wage a war against American troops. Ministry of Virtue and Vice along with a religious police force are already enforcing extreme hardline interpretation of sharia law in Afghanistan.

Bleak political future and constant infighting

Efforts to find a peaceful end to Afghanistan's protracted war have culminated into instability and chaos. The presidential palace is abuzz with rumors of factional divide, senior Taliban leaders seemed to have indulged in a brawl. This infighting stemmed from divisions claiming credit for victory in Afghanistan. With top Taliban leader, Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada and deputy prime minister Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar missing from public view, the Taliban has begun to crumble under pressure. 

The group at the helm of affairs will have to battle rampant corruption plaguing the nation. Most of the entrants in Taliban’s care-taker administration have criminal history which the world will find difficult to overlook. According to UN humanitarian agency, Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), a total of $606 million in aid was now needed for Afghanistan until the end of the year. With basic services nearing collapse and food aid running short, Afghanistan will find itself in a dire crisis. The Taliban may not give two hoots about the west, but Afghanistan’s $9 billion dollars held in international accounts have been blocked by the Biden administration. The world will continue to block diplomatic channels with Taliban till it promises to enforce constitutional rights in Afghanistan. By now the Taliban have understood that defeating super powers is easy but not restoring order.

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Afghanistan: Considering socio-economic interests in all segments of society is essential for sustainable peace



The First Deputy Director of the Institute for Strategic and Interregional Studies under the President of the Republic of Uzbekistan Akramjon Nematov commented on the initiatives of Uzbekistan in the Afghan direction put forward at the meeting of the Council of Heads of State of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) held on September 16-17.

Nowadays, one of the key issues on the international agenda is the situation in Afghanistan after the Taliban came to power. And it is quite natural that it became the central topic of the SCO heads of state summit held on September 17, 2021 in Dushanbe. Most of SCO states share a common border with Afghanistan and directly feel the negative consequences of the unfolding crisis. Achieving peace and stability in Afghanistan is one of the main security goals in the SCO region, writes Akramjon Nematov, First Deputy Director of the ISRS.

The seriousness of this issue and the high degree of responsibility with which states treat its solution is evidenced by the discussion of Afghan issue in the SCO-CSTO format. At the same time, the main goal of the multilateral negotiations was to find agreed approaches to the situation in Afghanistan.


President of Uzbekistan Sh. Mirziyoyev presented his vision of the ongoing processes in Afghanistan, outlined the challenges and threats associated with them, and also proposed a number of basic approaches to building cooperation in the Afghan direction.

In particular, Sh. Mirziyoyev stated that today a completely new reality has developed in Afghanistan. New forces as the Taliban movement have come to power. At the same time, he emphasized that the new authorities still have to go through a difficult way from consolidating society to forming a capable government. Today, there are still risks of Afghanistan returning to the situation of the 90s, when the country was engulfed in a civil war and a humanitarian crisis, and its territory turned into a hub of international terrorism and drug production.

At the same time, the head of state stressed that Uzbekistan, as the closest neighbor, which directly faced threats and challenges in those years, is clearly aware of all the possible negative consequences of the situation development in Afghanistan under a worst case scenario.


In this regard, Sh.Mirziyoyev called on the SCO countries to unite their efforts to prevent a protracted crisis in Afghanistan and related challenges and threats to the Organization's countries.

To this end, it was proposed to establish effective cooperation on Afghanistan, as well as to conduct a coordinated dialogue with the new authorities, carried out proportionately in compliance with their obligations.

First, the Uzbek leader stressed the importance of achieving broad political representation of all segments of Afghan society in state administration, as well as ensuring respect for fundamental human rights and freedoms, especially those of women and national minorities.

As the President of Uzbekistan noted, the prospects for stabilizing the situation, restoring the Afghan statehood and, in general, the development of cooperation between the international community and Afghanistan depend on this.

It should be noted that Tashkent has always adhered to a principled position on the need to respect the sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of the neighboring country. There is no alternative to a peaceful settlement of the conflict in Afghanistan. It is important to conduct a political dialogue with an inclusive negotiation process that takes into account exclusively the will of all Afghan people and the diversity of Afghan society.

Today, the population of Afghanistan is 38 million people, while more than 50% of it constitute ethnic minorities – Tajiks, Uzbeks, Turkmens, Hazaras. Shiite Muslims are 10 to 15% of the population and there are also representatives of other faiths. In addition, the role of women in the socio-political processes of Afghanistan has significantly increased in recent years. According to the World Bank, the number of women in the population of Afghanistan is 48% or about 18 million. Until recently, they occupied high government posts, served as ministers, worked in education and healthcare, actively participated in the socio-political life of the country as parliamentarians, human rights defenders, and journalists.

In this regard, only the formation of a representative government, the balance of the interests of ethno political groups, and the comprehensive consideration of socio-economic interests of all segments of society in public administration are the most important conditions for sustainable and lasting peace in Afghanistan. Moreover, the effective use of the potential of all social, political, ethnic and religious groups can make a significant contribution to the restoration of the Afghan statehood and economy, the return of the country to the path of peace and prosperity.

Second, the authorities should prevent the use of the country's territory for subversive actions against neighboring states, exclude patronage of international terrorist organizations. It was emphasized that countering the possible growth of extremism and the export of radical ideology, stopping the penetration of militants across borders and their transfer from hot spots should become one of the key tasks of the SCO.

Over the past 40 years, the war and instability in Afghanistan have turned this country into a haven for various terrorist groups. According to the UN Security Council, 22 out of 28 international terrorist groups, including IS and Al-Qaeda, are currently operating in the country. Their ranks also include immigrants from Central Asia, China and the CIS countries. Until now, joint efforts have been able to effectively stop terrorist and extremist threats emanating from the territory of Afghanistan, and prevent them from spilling over into the space of the Central Asian countries.

At the same time, a protracted power and political crisis caused by the complex process of forming a legitimate and capable government may cause a security vacuum in Afghanistan. It can lead to the activation of terrorist and extremist groups, increase the risks of transferring their actions to neighboring countries.

Moreover, the humanitarian crisis that Afghanistan is facing today is delaying the prospects for stabilizing the situation in the country. On September 13, 2021, the UN Secretary-General A. Guterres warned that in the near future Afghanistan may face a catastrophe, since almost half of the Afghan population or 18 million people live in a state of food crisis and emergency. According to the UN, more than half of Afghan children under the age of five suffer from acute malnutrition, and a third of citizens from lack of nutrition.

In addition, Afghanistan is facing another severe drought – the second in four years, which continues to have a serious negative impact on agriculture and food production. This industry provides 23% of the country's GDP and 43% of the Afghan population with jobs and livelihoods. Currently, 22 out of 34 Afghan provinces have been seriously affected by the drought, 40% of all crops were lost this year.

Moreover, the situation is aggravated by the growing poverty of the population of Afghanistan. According to the UN Development Program, by now the share of poverty among the population is 72% (27.3 million people out of 38 million), by the middle of 2022 it may reach 97%.

It is obvious that Afghanistan itself will not be able to cope with such complex problems. Furthermore, 75% of the state budget ($11 billion) and 43% of the economy have so far been covered by international donations.

Already today, high dependence on imports (imports – $ 5.8 billion, exports – $ 777 million), as well as freezing and restricting access to gold and foreign exchange reserves, have significantly spurred inflation and price growth.

Experts predict that the difficult socio-economic situation, coupled with the deterioration of the military-political situation, may lead to flows of refugees from Afghanistan. According to UN estimates, by the end of 2021, their number may reach 515,000. At the same time, the main recipients of Afghan refugees will be neighboring SCO member countries.

In the light of this, the President of Uzbekistan highlighted the importance of preventing the isolation of Afghanistan and its transformation into the "rogue state". In this regard, it was proposed to unfreeze the assets of Afghanistan in foreign banks in order to prevent a large-scale humanitarian crisis and influx of refugees, as well as to continue to assist Kabul in economic recovery and solving social problems. Otherwise, the country will not be able to get out of the clutches of the illegal economy. It will face the expansion of drug trafficking, weapons and other forms of transnational organized crime. It is obvious that all the negative consequences of this will be first felt by neighboring countries.

In this regard, the President of Uzbekistan called for the consolidation of the efforts of the international community to resolve the situation in Afghanistan as soon as possible and proposed to hold a high-level meeting in the SCO-Afghanistan format in Tashkent with the involvement of observer states and dialogue partners.

Undoubtedly, the SCO can make an important contribution to stabilizing the situation and ensuring sustainable economic growth in Afghanistan. Today, all of Afghanistan's neighbors are either members or observers of the SCO and they are interested in ensuring that the country does not become a source of threats to regional security again. The SCO member states are among the main trading partners of Afghanistan. The volume of trade with them is almost 80% of the trade turnover of Afghanistan ($11 billion). Moreover, the SCO member states cover more than 80% of Afghanistan’s electricity needs and more than 20% of wheat and flour needs.

The involvement of dialogue partners in the process of resolving the situation in Afghanistan, including Azerbaijan, Armenia, Turkey, Cambodia, Nepal, and now also Egypt, Qatar and Saudi Arabia, will allow us to develop common approaches and establish closer coordination of efforts in ensuring security, economic recovery and solving the most significant socio-economic problems of Afghanistan.

In general, the SCO states can play a key role in the post-conflict reconstruction of Afghanistan, promote its transformation into a responsible subject of international relations. In order to do this, the SCO countries need to coordinate efforts to establish long-term peace and integrate Afghanistan into regional and global economic ties. Ultimately, this will lead to the establishment of Afghanistan as a peaceful, stable and prosperous country, free from terrorism, war and drugs, and to ensuring security and economic well-being throughout the SCO space.

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Afghanistan insurgency: Cost of the war on terror



President Joe Biden’s decision to terminate the military intervention in Afghanistan has widely been criticised by commentators and politicians on both sides of the aisle. Both right- and left-wing commentators have excoriated his decision for different reasons. writes Vidya S Sharma Ph.D.

In my article entitled, Afghanistan pull out: Biden made the right call, I showed how their criticism does not stand scrutiny.

In this article, I wish to examine the cost of this 20-years long war in Afghanistan to the US at three levels: (a) in monetary terms; (b) socially at home; (c) in strategic terms. By strategic terms, I mean to what extent America’s involvement in Afghanistan (and Iraq) has diminished its position as a global superpower. And more importantly, what are the chances of the US reclaiming its previous status as the sole superpower?


Though I would generally confine myself to the cost of the insurgency in Afghanistan, I would also discuss briefly the costs of the second war in Iraq waged by President George W Bush under the pretext of finding the (hidden) weapons of mass destruction or WMDs that the UN team of 700 inspectors under the leadership of Hans Blix could not find. The Iraq war, soon after the US army had occupied Iraq, also suffered from ‘mission creep’ and transmuted into the war against insurgents in Iraq.

Cost of 20-years of counterinsurgency

Though very real, in some ways more tragic, yet I would not deal with the cost of war in terms of the number of civilians killed, injured and maimed, their properties destroyed, internally displaced persons and refugees, psychological trauma (some times lifelong) suffered by children and adults, disruption to children’s education, etc..


Let me begin with the cost of war in terms of dead and injured soldiers. In the war and ensuing counterinsurgency in Afghanistan (first officially called, Operation Enduring Freedom and then to indicate the global nature of the war on terrorism it was re-christened as ‘Operation Freedom's Sentinel’), the US lost 2445 military service members including 13 U.S. troops who were killed by ISIS-K in the Kabul airport attack on Aug. 26, 2021. This figure of 2445 also includes 130 or so US military personnel killed in other insurgency locations).

In addition, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) lost 18 of its operatives in Afghanistan. Further, there were 1,822 civilian contractor fatalities. These were mainly ex-servicemen who were now working privately.

Furthermore, by the end of August 2021, 20,722 members of the US defence forces has been wounded. This figure includes 18 wounded when ISIS (K) attacked near on 26 August.

Neta C Crawford, professor of Political Science at Boston University and a Co-Director of the “Costs of War Project” at Brown University, this month published a paper where she calculates that wars conducted in reaction to the 9/11 attacks by the US over the last 20 years have cost it $5.8 trillion (see Figure 1). Of this about $2.2 trillion is the cost of fighting the war and ensuing insurgency in Afghanistan. The rest is overwhelmingly the cost of fighting in the Iraq war launched by neo-cons on the pretext of finding the missing weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in Iraq.

Crawford writes: “This includes the estimated direct and indirect costs of spending in the United States post-9/11 war zones, homeland security efforts for counterterrorism, and interest payments on war borrowing.”

This figure of $5.8 trillion does not include the costs for medical care and disability payments for veterans. These were calculated by Harvard University’s Linda Bilmes. She found that medical care and disability payments for veterans, over the next 30 years, are likely cost the US Treasury more than $2.2 trillion.

Figure 1: Cumulative cost of war-related to September 11 attacks

Source: Neta C. Crawford, Boston University and Co-Director of the Costs of War Project at Brown University

Thus the total cost of the war on terror comes to the US taxpayers comes to $8 trillion. Lyndon Johnson increased the taxes to fight the Vietnam War. It is also worth remembering that all this war effort has been financed by debt. Both Presidents George W Bush and Donald Trump cut personal and corporate taxes, especially at the top end. Thus added to the budget deficit instead of taking steps to repair the nation’s balance sheet.

As mentioned in my article, Afghanistan pull out: Biden made the right call, Congress nearly unanimously voted to go to war. It gave a blank cheque to President Bush, ie to hunt down terrorists wherever they may be on this planet.

On 20 September 2001, in an address to a joint session of Congress, President Bush said: “Our war on terror begins with al-Qaida, but it does not end there. It will not end until every terrorist group of global reach has been found, stopped and defeated.”

Consequently, Figure 2 below shows the locations where the US has been engaged in fighting insurgencies in various countries since 2001.

Figure 2: Worldwide locations where the US engaged in fighting the war on terror

Source: Watson Institute, Brown University

Cost of the Afghanistan war to the US allies

Figure 3: Cost of Afghanistan War: NATO allies

CountryTroops Contributed*Fatalities**Military Spending ($ Billion)***Foreign Aid***

Source: Jason Davidson and Cost of War Project, Brown University

* Top European Allies Troop contributors to Afghanistan as of February 2011 (when it peaked)

** Fatalities in Afghanistan, October 2001-September 2017

*** All figures are for years 2001-18

This is not all. The Afghanistan war had cost the US’s NATO allies dearly too. Jason Davidson of the University of Mary Washington published a paper in May 2021. I summarise his findings for the top 5 allies (all NATO members) in a tabular form (see Figure 3 above).

Australia was the biggest non- NATO contributor to the US’s war effort in Afghanistan. It lost 41 military personnel and in financial terms, it cost Australia overall around $10 billion.

The figures shown in Figure 3 do not show the cost to the allies of looking after and settling refugees and migrants and the recurring cost of enhanced domestic security operations.

Cost of war: Lost employment opportunities

As mentioned above, the spending and appropriations relating to the cost of war from FY2001 to FY2019 come to about $5 trillion. In annual terms, it comes to $260 billion. This is on top of the budget for the Pentagon.

Heidi Garrett-Peltier of the University of Massachusetts has done some excellent work determining extra jobs these allocations created in the military-industrial complex and how many extra jobs would have been created if these funds were spent in other areas.

Garrett-Peltier found that “the military creates 6.9 jobs per $1 million, while the clean energy industry and infrastructure each support 9.8 jobs, healthcare supports 14.3, and education supports 15.2.”

In other words, with the same amount of fiscal stimulus, the Federal Government would have created 40% more jobs in renewable energy and infrastructure areas than in the military-industrial complex. And if this money were spent on health care or education, it would have created extra 100% and 120% jobs respectively.

Garrett-Peltier concludes that “the Federal Government has lost the opportunity to create 1.4 million jobs on average”.

Cost of war – Loss of morale, rundown equipment and distorted armed force structure

The US army, the biggest and the most powerful army in the world, along with its NATO allies, fought with uneducated and ill-equipped (running around in their old Toyota utility trucks with Kalashnikov rifles and some basic expertise in planting IEDs or Improvised Explosive Devices) insurgents for 20 years and could not subdue them.

This has taken its toll on the morale of the US defence personnel. Further, it has dented the US’s confidence in itself and its belief in its values and exceptionalism.

Furthermore, both the Iraq War II and the 20 years-long Afghanistan war (both started by neo-cons under George W Bush) has distorted the US force structure.

When discussing deployment, the generals often talk of the rule of three, ie, if 10,000 troops have been deployed in a theatre of war then it means there are 10, 000 servicemen who have recently come back from deployment, and yet another 10,000 are being trained and getting ready to go there.

The successive US Pacific commanders have been demanding more resources and watching the US Navy shrink to levels deemed unacceptable. But their requests for more resources were routinely denied by Pentagon to meet the demands of the generals fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Fighting the 20-years long war has also meant two more things: the US Armed Forces are suffering from war-weariness and were allowed to expand to meet America’s war commitments. This necessary expansion came at the expense of the US Air Force and Navy. It is the latter two that will be required to meet the challenge of China, the defence of Taiwan, Japan and S Korea.

Lastly, the US used its extremely expansive and high-tech equipment, eg, F22s and F35s aeroplanes, to fight insurgency in Afghanistan, ie, to locate and kill Kalashnikov-wielding insurgents roaming around in rundown Toyotas. Consequently, much of the equipment used in Afghanistan is not in good condition and needs serious maintenance and repairs. This repair bill alone will run into billions of dollars.

The cost of war does not end there. In Afghanistan and Iraq alone (ie, not counting fatalities in Yemen, Syria, and other theatres of insurgency), between 2001 to 2019, 344 and journalists were killed. The same figures was humanitarian workers and the contractors employed by the US Government were 487 and 7402 respectively.

U.S. service members who have committed suicide is four times greater than those killed in combat in the post-9/11 wars. Nobody knows how many parents, spouses, children, siblings, and friends are carrying emotional scars because they lost someone in the 9/11 wars or he/she was maimed or committed suicide.

Even 17 years after the Iraq war began, we still do know the true civilian death toll in that country. The same is true for Afghanistan, Syria, Yemen and other theatres of insurgency.

Strategic costs to the US

This preoccupation with the war on terror has meant that the US took eyes off the developments taking place elsewhere. This oversight allowed China to emerge as a serious competitor of the US not only economically but also militarily. This is the strategic cost, the US has paid for its 20 years-long obsession with the war on terror.

I discuss the topic of how China has benefitted from the US’s obsession with the war on terror in detail in my forthcoming article, “China was the biggest beneficiary of the “forever” war in Afghanistan”.

Let me very briefly state the enormity of the task ahead of the US.

In 2000, discussing the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) fighting capabilities, the Pentagon wrote that it was focused on fighting land-based warfare. It had large ground, air, and naval forces but they were mostly obsolete. Its conventional missiles were generally of short-range and modest accuracy. The PLA’s emergent cyber capabilities were rudimentary.

Now fast forward to 2020. This is how the Pentagon assessed the PLA’s capabilities:

Beijing will likely seek to develop a military by mid-century that is equal to—or in some cases superior to—the U.S. military. Over the last two decades, China has tenaciously worked to strengthen and modernize the PLA in nearly every respect.

China now has the second-largest research and development budget in the world (behind the US) for science and technology. It is ahead of the US in many areas.

China has used well-honed methods that it mastered to modernise its industrial sector to catch up with the US. It has acquired technology from countries like France, Israel, Russia and Ukraine. It has reverse-engineered the components. But above all, it has relied on industrial espionage. To mention just two instances: its cyber-thieves stole blueprints of F-22 and F-35 stealth fighters and the US navy’s most advanced anti-ship cruise missiles. But it has also carried genuine innovation.

China is now a world leader in laser-based submarine detection, hand-held laser guns, particle teleportation, quantum radar. And, of course, in cyber-theft, as we all know. In other words, in many areas, China now has a technological edge over the West.

Fortunately, there seems to be a realisation among politicians of both the side of the aisle that China will become the dominant power if the US did not put its house in order very soon. The US has a window of 15-20 years to reassert its dominance in both spheres: the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans. It relies on its air force and ocean-going navy to exert its influence abroad.

The US needs to take some steps to remedy the situation urgently. Congress must bring some stability to the Pentagon budget.

The Pentagon also needs to do some soul searching. For example, the cost of the development of the F-35 stealth jet was not only well above budget and behind time. It is also maintenance-intensive, unreliable and some of its software still malfunctions. It needs to improve its project management capabilities so that new weapon systems can be delivered on time and within budget.

Biden doctrine and China

Biden and his administration seem to be fully aware of the threat posed by China to the US security interest and dominance in the Western Pacific ocean. Whatever steps Biden has taken in foreign affairs are meant to prepare the US to confront China.

I discuss the Biden doctrine in detail in a separate article. Bur it would suffice here to mention a few steps taken by the Biden Administration to prove my contention.

First of all, it is worth remembering that Biden has not lifted any of the sanctions that the Trump administration imposed on China. He has not made any concessions to China on trade.

Biden reversed Trump’s decision and has agreed to extend the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF Treaty). He has done so primarily because he does not want to take on both China and Russia at the same time.

Both right- and left-wing commentators criticised Biden for the way he decided to pull the troops out of Afghanistan. By not continuing this war, the Biden Administration will save nearly $2 trillion. It is more than sufficient to pay for his domestic infrastructure programmes. Those programmes are not only needed to modernise the crumbling US infrastructure assets but will create many jobs in rural and regional towns in the US. Just as his emphasis on renewable energy will do.


Vidya S. Sharma advises clients on country risks and technology-based joint ventures. He has contributed numerous articles for such prestigious newspapers as: The Canberra Times, The Sydney Morning Herald, The Age (Melbourne), The Australian Financial Review, The Economic Times (India), The Business Standard (India), EU Reporter (Brussels), East Asia Forum (Canberra), The Business Line (Chennai, India), The Hindustan Times (India), The Financial Express (India), The Daily Caller (US. He can be contacted at: [email protected]

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